Woman describes the horrific ordeal of waking up mid-surgery
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Imagine the worst pain possible. Now times that by ten and throw in a stubbed toe and you’re still not even close to what this woman went through.
Donna Penner from Canada endured the horrific experience of waking up during surgery.
Before we get into it, let’s first point out that general anesthesia involves medications like ketamine that knock you unconscious and prevent pain.
On top of this, a person will be administered a paralytic drug in order to prevent muscle movement.
Unfortunately for Penner, the general anaesthetic didn’t work - but the paralytic did.
Back in 2008, Donna went in for an exploratory laparoscopy after experiencing heavy bleeding during her periods.
This involves a long vertical incision made on the patient’s abdomen before a surgeon inspects the abdomen for damage or disease.
In other words, not something you’d want to be awake for.
Speaking to the BBC, she said that after initially drifting off to sleep, she woke up and 'could still hear the sounds in the operating room' and assumed that 'it's done'.
But this is when her nightmare began.
Although she initially felt relaxed, Donna said: "That changed a few seconds later when I heard the surgeon speak.
"They were moving around and doing their things and then all of a sudden I heard him say, 'Scalpel please.'"
In disbelief, Donna wanted to let the doctors know what was happening - but she couldn't move due to the paralytic.
"I panicked. I thought this cannot be happening. So I waited for a few seconds, but then I felt him make the first incision," she continued.
"I don't have words to describe the pain - it was horrific."
Donna said she was 'so paralysed', she 'couldn't even make the tears to cry'.
"I felt him moving my organs around as he explored," she added. "I heard him say things like, 'Look at her appendix, it's really nice and pink, colon looks good, ovary looks good.'"
This hell lasted for around 90 minutes, and the pain was only half the problem.
Donna recalled: "To top it all off, because I was paralysed, they had intubated me - put me on a breathing machine - and set the ventilator to breathe seven times a minute... It felt as though my lungs were on fire."
At one point when she thought they had finished operating, she realised she was able to move her tongue and so she wiggled it to get their attention.
But when the anaesthesiologist noticed, he must have thought she was coming out of the paralytic more than she was and so he pulled the tube out of her mouth.
"I lay there thinking, 'Now I'm really in trouble.' I'd already said mental goodbyes to my family because I didn't think I was going to pull through. Now I couldn't breathe."
Donna then had an out-of-body experience - she could still hear the sounds of the operating room but they were all far away.
"The fear was gone, the pain was gone," she said. "I felt warm, I felt comforted and I felt safe. And instinctively I knew I was not alone. There was a presence with me."
However, she was brought back into reality when the medical team realised what was going on and used a manual resuscitator to force air into her lungs.
Once Donna had some time to come round, the surgeon came into the room to find out what had happened.
"I said to him, 'I was awake, I felt you cutting me.' His eyes filled with tears as he grabbed on to my hands and said, 'I am so sorry'."
Nine years after the incident, Donna took legal action against the hospital which was soon resolved.
But even so, the trauma is ongoing.
She said: "I was pretty messed up. It definitely takes its toll on a person. But talking about it has helped. After time, I was able to tell my story.
"My story is not to lay blame or to point fingers. I want people to understand that this thing can happen and does happen.
"I want to raise awareness, and help something good come out of this awful experience."